Most politicians know by now that making a major gaffe against women can lead to mocking on the feminist blogosphere and alienation of crucial female voters. That’s why the GOP even made a bunch of candidates sit through sensitivity training sessions on how to run against women. But these days, it’s hard to know exactly what might irritate women, so what’s a guy to do?
No, no, shhhh, calm down, gentlemen, no need to get upset: here’s a handy cheat-sheet of 5 things male politicians should never say to women.
1) “Sshhh”: When Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky repeatedly shushed CNBC’s Closing Bell co-anchor Kelly Evans, it came off as obnoxious and condescending. Especially when he paired it with “calm down” and “let me finish” before mansplaining that “your premise and your question is [sic] mistaken.” Women too often feel shut out of public debate, so literally trying to quiet a woman tends to grate.
2) “Attractive”: Here’s a good rule: Only compliment a woman’s appearance if she’s in your family (as in “mom, you look pretty”) or you’re romantically involved. Otherwise, hold your tongue in public, even if you think you’re being nice. When President Obama called Kamala Harris the “best-looking attorney general in the country” it came off as awkward, and when former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin called now-Sen. Joni Ernst “as good looking as Taylor Swift,” it made him look like a little weird.
3) “Ugly as sin”: If calling a woman politician attractive can come off as smarmy, calling her unattractive makes you look like a jerk. Republican New Hampshire lawmaker Steve Vaillancourt called U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster “ugly as sin” in comparison to her opponent, Marilinda Garcia, whom he called “not so attractive as to be intimidating, but truly attractive.” And when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York revealed that male colleagues had called her “porky” and “chubby,” it sparked a near-witch hunt to find the offenders in Congress.
4) Her first name: Using a female candidate’s first name instead of her title in a formal political context can come off as belittling. Just look at when Republican Thom Tillis debated then-Democratic Senator Kay Hagan for her North Carolina Senate seat. He repeatedly called her “Kay,” instead of “Senator,” causing one state reporter to say he “stopped just short of calling her ‘little lady.'”
5) Anything about being “likeable”: Obama’s lame quip that Hillary Clinton was “likeable enough” was another big gaffe from their 2008 face-off. (2016 Republicans, are you taking notes on this?) If you want people to like you, don’t talk about whether they’re likeable.
The bottom line: Treat women like other adult professionals, and you’ll be OK.